Alfred L. Kroeber Biography

(Cultural Anthropologist)

Birthday: June 11, 1876 (Gemini)

Born In: Hoboken, New Jersey, United States

Alfred Louis Kroeber was a prominent American anthropologist known for his contributions to the American Indian ethnology. A very influential figure in the field of anthropology in the first half of the 20th century, Kroeber was the first person to receive a doctorate in anthropology from the Columbia University. His works in the area of anthropology though primarily focused upon understanding the nature of culture and its processes also covered a wide range of related topics such as linguistics, folklore and social structures. One of his major contributions was the studies he conducted on the Yahi people, including his close collaboration with the last surviving member of the now-extinct tribe, Ishi. As a social scientist, he held the belief that all living organisms must be understood as indivisible wholes with respect to their developmental tendencies. It was his own personal experiences, growing up in a German family which had immigrated to the U.S., which kindled his interest in studying the cultural behaviors of people. In addition to his passion for anthropology, he also contributed significantly to the field of archaeology and had a lifelong interest in languages. He was a very hard working, calm and patient person and thus much respected by all those who worked with him.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Alfred Louis Kroeber

Died At Age: 84


Spouse/Ex-: Henrietta Rothschild, Theodora Krakow Brown

father: Florence Kroeber

mother: Johanna Muller

children: Clifton Brown Kroeber, Karl, Ted, Ursula Kroeber

Anthropologists American Men

Died on: October 5, 1960

place of death: Paris, France

City: Hoboken, New Jersey

U.S. State: New Jersey

More Facts

education: Columbia University

awards: 1912 - Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Childhood & Early Life
He was born on June 11, 1876, in New Jersey, to a German immigrant father, Florence Kroeber and his wife Johanna Muller. He was the eldest of their four children. The family moved to New York when Alfred was young.
When he was around seven years old he was tutored by Dr. Bamberger whom he later credited to be a brilliant teacher who instilled in his students a great curiosity for learning.
He went to Sachs’ Collegiate Institute, a grammar and high school, modeled on German gymnasium. This institute prepared boys for college.
He went to Columbia College in 1892 when he was 16 and received his A.B. in English in 1896 and an M.A. in Romantic drama the following year. However, he decided to change his field to anthropology.
In 1901, he received his doctorate degree in Anthropology from the Columbia University for his thesis on decorative symbolism on his field work among the Arapaho. His guide for Ph.D had been Franz Boas.
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In 1901, he embarked on his professional career at the University of California, Berkeley, where he would spend most of his career. He would eventually serve as both, a Professor of Anthropology and the Director of the then University of California Museum of Anthropology (now the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology).
Anthropology at that time was an emerging field and thus Kroeber and his contemporaries were assigned to vaguely defined academic positions that offered uncertain financial support. However, with his dedication and hard work he eventually succeeded in popularizing the field of anthropology.
For the first five years of his career at the university his salary was fixed at $1200 per annum. Along with teaching semesters, he investigated the little-known languages and cultures of native California along with P.E. Goddard.
In 1923, he published the book ‘Anthropology’ which was one of the most influential books on the subject during that time. Since anthropology was an emerging field, his book was the only textbook available for aspiring anthropologists.
Kroeber was aided by his students in research and together they did significant works in studying the western tribes of Native Americans. The data collected by them and the research they conducted was published in the ‘Handbook of the Indians of California’ (1925).
His research in the “culture area” was of immense importance. He developed several concepts related to this field which were published in the book, ‘Cultural and Natural Areas of Native North America’, in 1939.
In his ‘Basic and Secondary Patterns of Social Organization’ which was first published in 1938 and republished in ‘Nature of Culture’ in 1952, he related the problems of kinship systems to the question of what is primary and secondary in a total culture.
The book ‘Configurations of Culture Growth’, 1944, considered to be among his greatest works, deals with the superorganic nature of culture and shows that individual achievements may express culture but do not explain it.
He was also famous for working with Ishi, who was believed to be the last California Yahi Indian. Ishi was taken in at the University of California where Kroeber and other anthropologists interviewed him and studied him.
Awards & Achievements
He was made a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1912 in recognition of his contributions to the field of anthropology.
He is the recipient of several honorary degrees from reputed institutions like Yale University, Columbia University and Harvard.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Henrietta Rothschild in 1906. Unfortunately his wife contracted tuberculosis and suffered several years of ill health before succumbing to her illness in 1913.
Several years after his first wife’s death he married Theodora Kracaw Brown, a widow, in 1926. Theodora had two sons from her previous marriage whom Kroeber adopted. The couple had a happy marriage that produced two more children.
He died on October 5, 1960, at the age of 84.

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